At first, expectations coming into the nation’s capital were rather moderate for Nick Paul. After all, the former 2013 4th-round pick of the Dallas Stars was just one of four pieces the Ottawa Senators received in exchange for superstar forward Jason Spezza on July 1st, 2014.
However, as Alex Chiasson failed to make an impact with the big club, and Alex Guptill and Gabriel Gagne were swapped out for minor-league depth, it became increasingly clear that Paul was the only source of potential left in the wake of the most talented centre to wear a Senators jersey.
Over the last few years, Paul struggled to lock down a permanent spot in the NHL, spending four full seasons in the minors, all while the organization remained patient. That patience paid off for them in spades.
Indeed, thanks to a system and coach that blended perfectly with his style of play, as well as some key changes in mentality, and most importantly, the incomparable power of cheddar cheese biscuits, Nick Paul is finally an NHL player. And even though he just took the biggest leap of his career, there’s a case to be made that he’s not done elevating his game.
This past season, Paul tallied 9 goals and 11 assists, for 20 points in 56 games; standard bottom-six production. He was also the strongest Senator in the faceoff circle, winning over 51 percent of draws, and was fifth on the team in shots on goal with 103.
Now that Paul has matured into a full-time NHLer, we really begin to see the full extent of the skillset that made him a prospect worth holding on to. In the clip below, from the highlight of his career against the San Jose Sharks, you’ll see Paul show off an impressive wrist shot, followed by a demonstration of his ability to use his large frame to get into a prime scoring position.
Paul is also equipped with the team’s hardest slapshot, which was showcased in the most recent Sens Skills competition. With these tools at his disposal, Paul could do some serious damage when paired with a skilled playmaker. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he played very well last season with Logan Brown in the 2018-19 AHL season.
Paul was relied on by head coach D.J. Smith to play heavy minutes in his own end. According to NaturalStatTrick, he ranked second on the team behind Connor Brown with the lowest offensive zone start percentage, at 36.55%. He spent a good portion of the year playing against top competition on a line with Brown and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
While he was nothing special in the analytics department, Paul still performed better defensively than the majority of his peers. Despite poor Corsi and xGF at 5v5, his decent Isolated Impact (per HockeyViz) implies that heavy defensive deployment and a lack of support from the back end had quite a bit to do with those numbers.
Furthermore, Evolving Hockey ranks Paul in the 57th percentile (better than 57 percent of NHL forwards) in terms of Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. This was retrieved from visualizations done by @JFreshHockey.
Paul was extremely streaky this season; of his 20 points, 8 of them came in a 10-game stretch, and 11 more came in a 23-game stretch. He suffered through a cold streak of only a single point (a goal) in 20 games. If he can become more consistent, his production could increase considerably.
With his contract expiring this offseason, RFA rights will make negotiations rather simple for GM Pierre Dorion. A three-year deal might be ideal, though the opportunity is there to go for more term and secure what could be a valuable player for the majority of the Senators’ competitive window.
It doesn’t seem like a bad idea. A responsible power forward with an imposing frame and strong shot, that’s what Nick Paul is. Not to mention, his confidence is at an all-time high. Bet on him, and maybe he’ll deliver.
Which brings us to this week’s question: Does Nick Paul have more to show? Could he be even more valuable than we might think?
Will Nick Paul score 20 goals in a season?